Doc Emrick will remember this date quite well:
October 13, 1960.
The last time a professional championship was won within the Pittsburgh city limits by one of its three remaining pro sports teams.
Here is a bit of a history lesson before the hockey talk.
The Pittsburgh Pipers won the city’s last professional championship, the first-ever ABA championship coincidentally, defeating the New Orleans Buccaneers on May 4, 1968. That franchise would move to Minneapolis the following season, then return to Pittsburgh and play as the Condors for the next two seasons before finally folding after the 1971-72 season.
Prior to the Pipers’ ABA championship, it was Emrick’s beloved Pittsburgh Pirates who last won a championship for, and in the Steel City.
Many argue that Game 7 of the 1960 World Series was the greatest game ever played. Bill Mazeroski, Pirates second baseman and one of the greatest defensive infielders of all time, hit the only World Series Game 7 walk off home run in major league history in the ninth inning. But without backup catcher Hal Smith’s home run in the bottom of the eighth inning (to give the Pirates a temporary 2-run lead, as the Yankees would score twice in the top of the ninth), Mazeroski’s leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth is rendered virtually irrelevant.
The city’s most popular franchise, the NFL’s Steelers, have won six Super Bowls. Each of those six victories has been at a neutral site.
As for hockey, the Pittsburgh Hornets won the Calder Cup as champions of the AHL on the last day of April in 1967. The Hornets swept the Rochester Americans, with Billy Harris scoring just 26 seconds into overtime of Game 4 at the old Civic Arena. It would be the last goal scored in Hornets’ history as the Penguins would join the NHL just six months later.
Pittsburgh and the Stanley Cup
It would take the Penguins 23 years before they would lift the silver chalice handed out to the champions of the National Hockey League.
In 1991 the Penguins would face the Minnesota North Stars in the Stanley Cup Final. Pittsburgh had home ice, but the first four games would be split between the two teams.
The Pens would win Game 6 6-4 in Pittsburgh, and close out the North Stars in one of the worst routes in Stanley Cup Final history by a final score of 8-0 at the Met Center in Bloomington.
The Chicago Blackhawks would be no match for the rolling Penguins. Pittsburgh would sweep the series, winning the final two games at the old Chicago Stadium.
That would be the height of the success of the Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr era.
Fast forward to 2008, and the beginning of the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era had begun. Playing in just their third season together, the duo would lead the young up-and-coming Pens back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in nearly two decades. The vaunted Detroit Red Wings would await them.
After not scoring a goal in the first two games at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, the Pens would rally behind Crosby in Game 3 back in Pittsburgh. But the Wings and all of their combined experience would send the series back to Detroit with a chance to eliminate the Penguins in five games.
Petr Sykora would have other ideas. Max Talbot would score with just over 30 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. Sykora would then “call his shot” (rumor has it Sykora told the Penguins’ locker room that he was going to score) and end Game 5 in the third overtime.
Despite a late flurry in front of Wings’ netminder Chris Osgood in Game 6, Pittsburgh simply could not overcome the ultra-talented, uber-experienced Red Wings. Detroit would win the Cup in six games.
Their series in 2008 was so good that Pittsburgh and Detroit decided to do it again the following year in 2009. The series would follow a similar script through the first three games. Detroit held serve on home ice, and Pittsburgh rallied in Game 3. Game 4 would also go to the Pens and the series would become a best of three.
Detroit pasted Pittsburgh in Game 5 to the tune of 5-0. But when the Pens returned home for Game 6, facing elimination once more, the Igloo (Mellon Arena) faithful would begin chanting Marc Andre Fleury’s name before the puck even dropped. Jordan Staal and his third line mates would lead the charge in sending the 2009 Stanley Cup Final back to Detroit for a seventh and deciding game.
Talbot would once again tally a big goal in Detroit, in fact it would be two; Fleury would make the save of his career against a first-ballot hall of fame defenseman in Nick Lidstrom with five seconds left in the game and the Penguins were once again Stanley Cup Champions.
A Chance at History
After seven years of frustration and disappointment, these 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins, by virtue of their 3-1 win last night in San Jose in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, have a chance to once again raise Lord Stanley’s chalice.
The Penguins lead the series 3-1 and can wrap it up and send everyone on summer vacation with a victory in Game 5 Thursday night at Consol Energy Center.
Make no mistake, the city will be buzzing for the next two days. Many people may not sleep. And who could blame them? These Penguins have an opportunity to do something that no other Penguins’ team has ever had.
They have a chance to win the Stanley Cup on home ice.
In 1991, the Pens first chance at winning the Cup came in Game 6, in Minnesota. They won.
In 1992, their first chance at winning the Cup came in Game 4 in Chicago. They won.
The opportunity never presented itself in 2008.
In 2009, it took a Herculean effort in Game 6 to force a Game 7 back in Detroit. The Pens one, and only, chance at the cup in ’09 was in Game 7 in Detroit.
In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the fourth win of a series is always the hardest to achieve. San Jose certainly intends on spoiling the party that is no doubt already brewing outside of Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins will look to win the fourth Stanley Cup of the franchise’s history on Thursday night.
But for the first time in the franchise’s history, they’ll look to do so…